By Edward Henderson, California Black Media
On June 8, community leaders, public health advocates and racial justice groups convened for a virtual press event to urge Gov. Gavin Newsom to support the Health Equity and Racial Justice Fund (HERJ Fund).
The initiative supports community-based organizations addressing the underlying social, environmental and economic factors that limit people’s opportunities to be healthy — such as poverty, violence and trauma, environmental hazards, and access to affordable housing and healthy food. Health advocates would also address longstanding California problems related to health equity and racial justice problems.
The fund cleared a significant hurdle last week when the state Legislature included $75 million in their joint budget proposal. This means both the Assembly and Senate support the HERJ Fund and they will go into negotiations with the governor to seek his support to approve it.
“Our state boasts a staggering $97 billion budget surplus,” said Ron Coleman, managing director of the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network. “If not now, when? Given the devastating impact of racism on the health and well-being of Californians of color it’s a travesty of the highest order that racial justice isn’t even mentioned in the Governor’s budget proposal,”
Last Wednesday’s virtual community meeting and press event capped off a series of rallies held by supporters in cities across the state calling on Newsom to make room in his budget for the HERJ Fund.
Coleman facilitated the online event featuring representatives from service organizations speaking about their support for the fund and presenting plans for how the money would be used to support their shared mission of providing services to minority and underserved communities in California.
Jenedra Sykes, a partner at Arboreta Group, spoke about inequalities that exist in funding for smaller grassroots nonprofits and how traditionally larger, white-led nonprofits use state funds to subcontract with grassroots nonprofits to provide services to communities of color at lower costs.
“The faith-based non-profits on the ground have the relationships, the access to those who are most vulnerable and marginalized among us who disproportionately have poorer health outcomes,” said Sykes. “This bill also evens the playing field a bit. Instead of going through the middleman of the established larger non-profits, funding will go directly to the people who are doing the work. The passion, the heart, the skills, the talents are there. It’s about the resources to fund these talents”
Coleman gave attendees an update on the status of the HERJ Fund’s path to inclusion in the state budget.
Now that the state Legislature has included the fund in their spending proposal for Fiscal Year 2022-23 (it was not included in Newsom’s “May Revise”), it must survive negotiations with the governor’s office before the June 15 deadline to finalize the budget.
A final budget needs to be in place by June 30, the last day for the governor to approve.
HERJ Fund supporters remain hopeful that funding for their program will be included in the final budget.
Updated mechanisms about the budget were added to the HERJ Fund’s proposal to alleviate those concerns and supporters of the fund believe that Newsom is out of excuses.
“Our best shot at getting the HERJ Fund in the budget is now. We are hoping that all of you will keep the pressure on the governor to ensure that this becomes a reality,” Coleman said. “If he does care about the intersections of health equity and racial justice then we will see funding.”
Attendees were encouraged to contact the governor’s office and the Legislature to keep the pressure on them to include the fund. You can visit herjfund.org to learn more about the proposal and the effort to include it in the state budget.
Nadia Kean-Ayub, executive director of Rainbow Spaces, shared details about the valuable events and services community-based non-profits provide. She said there is no shortage of families in need who want to participate in their organizations’ programs but, due to limited funding for transportation, many people never access services meant to help them.
“This tells me that when things are created in our communities, they are not making the impact we need in our Black, Brown and API communities,” Kean-Ayub said. “I will continue to fight. To really make this grow, we need the state to understand that the true impact comes from the community and the people who are living these issues and who know how to help them.”